Jesus says his Father’s house is not a marketplace. But then he radically redefines where God lives – not in a house, but in a Body. God’s Body is not a marketplace.
3rd Sunday in Lent (Year B) – March 8, 2015 – John 2:13-22
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“Not a Marketplace” – Pastor Evan Davis
Step right up! Cattle! Got your cattle right here! How bout sheep? Ma’am, you look like you need a sheep – a whole lamb for the sacrifice – have you been good this year? Young man, doves is on special here today…2 for a shekel! Step right up! Everything you need for the Temple!
Is that about how cattle sales go? I’ve never bought one. When you buy a steer, let’s say, you’re looking for….???…..certain signs that tell you it will be tasty. It wasn’t that different in the Jerusalem Temple, I imagine…because these cattle, and also the sheep and doves, are for God. And you want to serve a tasty meal to God. A tasty sacrifice, with a pleasant aroma that ascended from the fire up to heaven. Israel had an extremely complex system of religious sacrifices – all laid out in the law, mostly in Leviticus. There were several different types of sacrifices, sometimes you let the whole animal burn entirely, sometimes a portion is eaten by the family offering the sacrifice, with a portion given to the priests. All of the sacrifices were a means by which one could be reconciled to God. It was a means of atonement, and forgiveness. In the ancient world, temples were places were animals were sacrificed to God or gods. That’s what the Jerusalem Temple was for. This was Jesus’ day, over 500 years after Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed. This is actually Herod the Great’s temple. He’d been building it, with Roman permission and patronage, for 46 years. It was one of the great spectacles of the Eastern Roman Empire. Not to mention the holiest place for the Jewish people.
In order to worship God properly, people had to come to Jerusalem. You had to come to where God lived. Which, as God promised, was in the Temple. It was God’s house, literally. It was where the presence, the shekinah, of God abided. So it’s no surprise, and no scandal to anyone, that the Temple has become a marketplace. It was absolutely required for the sacrificial system to work – for people to be able to do what the law said they should do.
So it’s shocking, deeply troubling to any Jew with good “old time religion,” that Jesus makes a whip of cords and drives the sheep and cattle out of the temple, goes to the exchange booth, busts it up and pours out their money, and tells the dove salesfolk, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” It needed to be a marketplace. Jesus is not suggesting reform of the system, he’s taking the whole system down, entirely. He’s saying, you know the way God said you should worship? Yeah, forget it. Don’t do it anymore. Shocking.
Quite understandably, some bystanders or people who know their stuff demand a sign from Jesus. They’re asking for some credentials, some reason why Jesus can do what he did.1 As he so often does in John, Jesus replies with a mysterious enigma, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Again, as so often happens, his conversation partners interpret his words literally. Herod’s been building this temple for 46 years, and will you raise it up in three days? Now John helps us out… “But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” No response this time. Perhaps because it just didn’t make any sense, so people shrugged their shoulders and walked away from the crazy man.
But Jesus is making the most radical statement about God he could ever make. It’s what those who trusted in Jesus, who believed in Jesus, would later proclaim: that in Jesus, almighty God lived. You see, the Temple was where you went to meet God. To be in God’s presence, God’s shekinah. You had to go there. Not anymore. We should have been tipped off in the prologue to John, which reads, “and the Word became flesh and lived among us….” Literally it says the Word, which was God, pitched a tent in our midst. Eugene Peterson famously translated it in The Message, “God moved into the neighborhood.” The pitching a tent language is important, because the shekinah, the presence of God was originally carried around in the ark, which was put in a tent, up until the time when the first Temple was built. But now God has pitched the tent to live in…among us. In our neighborhood.
Jesus is saying, if you want to meet God, here I am. You don’t have to go to Jerusalem anymore. Wherever I am, God is. In my body. Just think about that….God has a body. Just like you. I am the Temple, Jesus says! A body that was born from another body. A body that probably walked thousands of miles, that touched the lepers, that got smelly, a body that was beaten, broken, and raised up on a cross. That is where God lived, and died.
The location of God is no longer a house, it’s a Body. And just like God’s house is not a marketplace, neither is God’s Body. God’s Body is not bought or sold. Because the presence of God has no price. Our life in God is not a transaction. It’s a relationship, with a God who is and will always be faithful. If you want to meet God, meet Christ in his Body….right here in this Body. [Eucharist]
But also in this Body, all of you. It’s no surprise that later the church is called “the Body of Christ.” Because Christ has promised to be with us….wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, where bread is broken and wine poured for the forgiveness of sins, and most importantly, joined to us now and forever in Baptism. If you want to find God now, if you want to look at Jesus, look at your neighbor. The person next to you. We are now God’s Body in the world. Theresa of Avila put it like this:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. 2
And God’s Body is not a marketplace. Your Body is not a marketplace. You don’t have to change your body, or decorate it, cover it with the right clothes, protect it in the right house, move it around in the right car, or put enough medals on its chest. God already lives in you. Your Body is not a raw material or economic input. God’s Body, human bodies, are not to be bought and sold in slavery, and yet over 20 million people are suffering as human slaves right now. God’s Body, your bodies, are not to be abused by words or by actions or by other bodies.
In the same way the whole Body of Christ, the church, is sacred. We’re not for sale. We’re not salespeople. Church is not about supply and demand, or offering a list of features that the “church shopper” wants. No. We live God’s purpose for us, with great intention. We figure out who we are – who God has gifted us to be and how God might be calling us to use those gifts to serve our neighbor around us in this community. Whatever our Body looks like, whether we look like the next church or not, that’s who we are. Wholeness and peace for us is to accept who we are and be the best St. Jacob’s we can be.
If you want a pretty good portrait of how to honor and respect God’s Body, look at the Ten Commandments, or really the “ten teachings” of God from Exodus today, which are not laws to be followed arbitrarily but rather a vision of the Body-honoring life God wants for God’s people in whom God dwells. God wants your Body to be well – to be well-nourished, well-used, well-maintained, well-respected, well honored and loved. God’s Body is brown, black, white, and everything in between. God’s body is muscular and sleek, big and small, short and tall, blind and seeing, deaf and hearing. It is old, young, and who’s counting? It is too skinny and it could afford to lose a few pounds. God’s Body is female and male. God’s Body has cancer, it has malaria, and AIDS, and it is also healed.
It’s not for sale. And neither are you. The Holy One lives in you. You are priceless in all the wondrous imperfection, limitation, and mortality of being human. And God’s call for us is to accept, honor, and cherish God’s Body – ours and those holy ones next to us. Let it be so. Amen.
1Karoline Lewis, Commentary on John 2:13-22, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2377 (accessed March 6, 2015).
2Theresa of Avila, “Christ Has No Body,” as posted by Dan Clendenin, “The Journey with Jesus: Poems and Prayers,” http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Teresa_Of_Avila_Christ_Has_No_Body.shtml (accessed March 8, 2015).